Dead Prez

Dead Prez's debut album "Lets Get Free" is one of the essential hip hop albums of the last decade mixing up tight production with the politics of the Black Panthers. Returning with "Revolutionary But Gangsta" after several years of legal wrangles which followed the demise of Loud Records, the hip hop duo are more focused to the needs of the common person on the street and this album faces the daily reality's of getting by. Designer Magazine caught up with M1 to find out what the 1st chapter of the Dead Prez book is about and found this is only the beginning with another 50 songs ready to be launched into the publics consciousness.

Q: Even though you've had the bootleg mix tapes out in stores, the legal problems with the record label have kept this 2nd full release off the shelves till now. How was it through this period not knowing what's happening, waiting for the album to come out?
A: We always were doing what we were gonna do. We put out 2 independent records in the meantime and it's not like we were just sitting round. We went out on tour with Erika Badu through the US and did the West Coast. Let me tell you something, we've got a lot of music ready to go. It didn't sweat me at all. We made 40 news songs and 50 new songs on top of that. The new album is ready. A record label doesn't control my life.

I think there is a fear of being stolen from from a major label and that's why we've got our legal stuff together. Our legal defences are able to see any worries we have and get focused, any trickery in the words. We still need money to live, but hopefully we can provide some assistance with the peoples program, the graphic artists movement and things that allow artists to develop themselves.

Q: Did the independent releases allow you to be even more direct, more in your face with the lyrics?
A: Kinda. We really can't be more in your face than we already are. I think we've said it clearly. But it allows us definitely to control our own thing and with the money it allows us to control all of the profits. I don't really care that the record label take 90% of our profits, yer know why, because the system is not what I depend on. The fact that they are doing that to us is a great way of saying look what that system is doing to all of us. If it wasn't in the music business, it would be at Burger King or some fast food restaurant.

What we're trying to do with the mix tapes is communicate in a way the same kind of urgency the radio creates or the urgency that these videos create. They make people go and do things they wouldn't even think about like buying shoes or buying jewellery. We want to create an urgency about freedom. It's not new tactics, we were always interested in mix tapes. It just became the next tool in the movement. People are able to digest it in a quick blast the way the radio does, it gets in that window and gets their attention.

Q: After doing the 2 independent albums didn't you want to do "RBG" independently as well?
A: We're still doing independent albums. It's just that this album was already done with Sony, so we decided to put it out with them, but we're still doing independent albums. We've got another Mix Tape coming out in 2 or 3 months. The only reason the mix tapes had a different tone is because we allowed ourselves to experiment. We made those mix tapes in our studios instead of Sony Studios. We did the artwork. It passed through less hands and less middle men, but in essence it said exactly what we wanted to say.

We meant to communicate to a white audience and we knew that passing through other hands white people, European people and Uncle Tom Bourgeois Africans would hear it. We said we gotta be prepared for that. That's why "RGB" may even sound something different from the mix tapes. It's because we have been prepared for more people to handle the material.  White people should hear the music, they should here the music that black people are doing. White people should see that sometimes the real gets through and it's not to be scared of, it's to learn something about what's going on. I think white people listen to everything that Dead Prez do.

But lets not get it confused, it's not like Sony Records are nice to Dead Prez. Every little piece of space that we have based off our rights to say what we say and be who we are. It's legitimate in the world and it deserves to be talked about.

Q: If the first album "Lets Get Free" was the theory of Dead Prez then "RBG" is the daily reality's of getting by?
A: In the book of Dead Prez I would consider "Lets Get Free" is in the contents page. We wanted to set it up and let people know what it could be. We didn't know if we would be able to write the whole book, but we wanted to let people know what we intended to write as a whole. "RGB" is chapter 1 and we've got many chapters, we're gonna go on. There's so many more little ways to get through, don't worry. We're gonna hit it from all angles. We're here for all the people, not just the political militants, but the people who need to be awakened to become political militants. It's real music for everybody. "Lets Get Free" made such an impact, but it didn't make such an impact in our neighbourhood. The problems weren't what we were hearing from the streets, it was what we were not hearing. All we are is proof of our struggle and it's in all of us. It's in other artists, none of us are any different. It's in Jay Z the same way as it's in the Immortal Technique.

I work on a plantation. I work there and that might be my job, but my occupation is revolution. That's exactly what hip hop is. If this was purified music then our music might sound different than it does, but we are affected by oppression. As a guerilla we have to move. We know oppression exists. Just because it does we still have to be successful. That's why it's important that Dead Prez make records with Jay Z.

Q: The album was originally gonna be called "Walk Like A Warrior". Why did you change it to "Revolutionary But Gangsta"?
A: RBG was always the theme. It was a more broader thing than "Walk Like A Warrior". RGB is our flag, it represents our whole movement. RBG has always been our sentiment from the beginning. Revolutionary But Gangsta is basically saying were connecting the streets with the movement.

Q: This album you've put the RGB Code in the sleevenotes, a five point system to get by. With you guys it's not just the music, it's the whole package, the whole message.
A: We try not to give people too much. The whole platform and the membership form and when you come in you've got to do 50 push-ups. It's really trying to make it easy. 5 Easy Simple Points. If you can agree with that, then when I see you then maybe we can take it one step further.

People call us deep all the time, but were not deep. I can formulate opinion, if that's deep, but really I just want to be on the same common ground as anybody. People can work their way back or they can work their way forward cos were gonna keep doing more stuff like "Lets Get Free". You can work your way back to "Get Free Or Die Trying" the mix tape. Look out for the albums to come cos were gonna hit em really hard.

Q: Post September 11th has it been harder for you guys to say realize your freedom of speech? Has it been harder to get your message out there without a barrage of criticism?
A: No. They're still frontin. They were frontin on us before September 11th and they're frontin on Dead Prez now. It's still the same struggle. Ultimately they don't want the idea of Dead Prez to be rapping. I'm not just talking about just making the CDs, it's too late once you've got us in the CD form. What they want to do is stop the overtone of that coming from our community and it can't be stopped as long as there is pain and suffering, as long as there is oppression.

The only difference is that the US Government has a plan that we know about, before we didn't know the governments plans. Joint Vision 2020 and The Patriots Act are definitely gonna come across on the new album, it's just that sometimes because you know certain information people assume you're part of the intelligentsia and all you do is conspire about how the government is conspiring. I definitely will put that information out, but it's not going to be in a classroom type situation, it's gonna filter in so that it really can be taken in and understood by the common person in the hood.

Q: People and critics have always compared you to Public Enemy, but that's more because there isn't anyone else to compare you to. Agree?
A: I gotta agree. I think we are Public Enemy's supporters. We were the 2 million fans who didn't stop at Public Enemy, but we stopped by Public Enemy to know and see the results. The result is freedom. We are products of a whole lot of struggle and so Public Enemy only helped to enhance it. Let me tell you, there's a whole lot more fire. We are kinda like the amount of all the fires together from the different communities and different struggles that can be focused and directed. And the newest age of technology that there is which is communication through hip hop music. I don't think were the only ones, I think were part of the groundswell. I think it's in their heart. I see it when I talk to Scarface, I see it when I talk to Busta Rhymes, I see it when I talk to Trick Daddy. It's to come soon.

Q: How did you work your way back to the Black Panthers cos the history wasn't taught in schools?
A: It wasn't taught in schools, but we definitely acquired it. The graveyards were there in our hood. The remnants of the war was there. We kind of picked up the pieces and studied it like ghetto archaeologists. We had to put together what history was. In the hood people might get them confused with a gang or something, but I think it's for us to clear it all up.

Q: As you get older with each album and the things you do each day in the community, do you find yourself getting more militant?
A: It's about the same. I try not to be more angry. I have a different concentration now. I'm trying to raise a family and build schools. I pretty much know that if I keep the consistency then i'll make it. The older you get, the harder it gets because they give you more responsibility. It's harder to buck against the system when they the ones that are paying you or the ones that you pay to live where you live.

90% of the world is poor, most of us our brown, that's gonna connect. The system is characterized as a white power system. But we have white fans come up to us and they recognize there is right and wrong. Our message is for all people - not just for poor white people or poor black people. It's for rich Uncle Tom Sell-outs, Republicans and Democrats, fugitives on the run. It's the truth and it's out there for everybody to judge it. I think people that haven't lived our lives out there have to see our side cos they can see the rich side. Believe me there's a guilt that happens with that. There's white people that are working for reparation because they feel like they are sitting on top of too much of the spoils of the rape of our people.

Q: Finally, do you feel that the UK and Europe can relate to your message as much as youth in the States?
A: Of course they can relate to the record in their own way. Even though we are affected by Europe and we don't like Europe, because we understand that is the birthplace of the white power shit. But the message is universal, it's for everybody to hear. We're concentrating on the world. There's Africans across the whole world everywhere. Definitely in the UK. We know what's going on with the UK governments stance against immigrants, we see what's happening in Paris. If you listen to the songs, wherever you live you can apply the same thing, it's pretty universal. It's personal universal.

"Revolutionary But Gangsta" is out now on Epic
The Single "Hell Ya" is also in stores
For more info

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